Saturday, December 18, 2010

Have I looked in my father's eyes

My father, Carl Barker
Deep, dark brown
More almond-shaped than any almond
Short lashes loosely-covered with saggy skin

Reading, always
Anything and everything
Day into night, sometimes into day again

Stories of rugged cowboys with guns and sweaty horses,
County, back-woods postal addresses
Political commentaries, Sunday color comics

Birmingham News
Sports section first, forever and amen

Disease-invaded like an army
He fought them all with force
Passed away one night while praying that he'd continue to live

We learned what was possible
Through salty, hot tears
And smiled with happiness at the irony of his gift

Corneas, still healthy, searching for more
Traveled to someone unknown
So that they could see, they could read

Perhaps I, while on a journey to Montgomery or Mobile
Looked in my father's eyes
Though they were no longer almond-shaped and brown

They would have been reading
Anything, everything
Sports section first, forever and amen

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Daring Cooks December 2010 Challenge: Poach to Perfection!

Lately, I have been blogging about joining The Daring Kitchen, an-online community of cooks and bakers who are challenged each month to cook or bake something new and different. Everyone uses the same recipe and then posts their results, with narrative and photographs, on their blog.

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose an Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

I chose the Eggs Benedict recipe.

Surprisingly, poaching an egg was not very difficult technique-wise. It really is all about the timing and there are a few tricks that can help.

• Make sure to use the freshest eggs possible. Farm-fresh eggs will make for the best poached eggs.
• Adding a bit of vinegar to the water will help stabilize the eggs and cook the whites faster, and keeping your water just below boiling point (about 190F) will help keep the fragile eggs from rupturing. Also make sure to salt the poaching water well.
• The other main key to success is to crack your egg into a small bowl first, taking care not to break the yolk. Then it becomes easy to gently slide the entire egg into the water for the poaching process.
• A poached egg is done when the whites are fully cooked and the yolk has just started to solidify but is still runny when you cut it open – usually three minutes. It’s ok to go a little longer though depending on your desired firmness. 
• You can poach eggs ahead of time (about a day). Just immerse them in ice water after poaching, and then keep them in a bowl of water in the fridge. When you are ready to use them, place them in hot (not boiling) water until they are warmed through.

Here's what you'll need for Eggs Benedict:
4 eggs (size is your choice)
2 English muffins
4 slices of Canadian bacon (or plain bacon if you prefer)
Splash of vinegar (for poaching)

The hollandaise sauce requires:
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, and cut in small piecs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer.
2. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces and set aside.
3. Whisk egg yolks and 1 teaspoon water in a mixing bowl large enough to sit on the saucepan without touching the water (or in top portion of a double boiler). Whisk for 1–2 minutes, until egg yolks lighten. Add the sugar and whisk 30 seconds more.
4. Place bowl on saucepan over simmering water and whisk steadily 3–5 minutes (it only took about 3 for me) until the yolks thicken to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Remove from heat (but let the water continue to simmer) and whisk in the butter, 1 piece at a time. Move the bowl to the pan again as needed to melt the butter, making sure to whisk constantly.
6. Once all the butter is incorporated, remove from heat and whisk in the salt, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper (if using).
7. Keep the hollandaise warm while you poach your eggs. Use a thermos, carafe, or bowl that you’ve preheated with warm water.
8. If the water simmering in your pan has gotten too low, add enough so that you have 2–3 inches of water and bring back to a simmer.
9. Add salt and a splash of vinegar (any kind will do).
10. Crack eggs directly into the very gently simmering water (or crack first into a bowl and gently drop into the water), making sure they’re separated. Cook for 3 minutes for a viscous but still runny yolk.
11. While waiting for the eggs, quickly fry the Canadian bacon and toast the English muffin.
12. Top each half of English muffin with a piece of bacon. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, draining well, and place on top of the bacon. Top with hollandaise and garnish, and enjoy!
Preparation time:
Eggs Benedict: 20 minutes

Equipment required:
Generally for poaching eggs you need:
• Large shallow pan
• Small bowl (for cracking eggs into)
• Large slotted spoon for lifting out poached eggs
• Timer

For Eggs Benedict:
• Double boiler (for the hollandaise)
• Alternatively a saucepan and heat proof mixing bowl that is large enough to sit on top
• Toaster or oven for toasting English muffins
• Frying pan for cooking bacon
• Thermos, carafe, or bowl (in which to keep the hollandaise warm)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Homemade almond butter

In my slow, but steady, journey to a more natural diet, I began making almond butter a few months ago.

I was often reading of the benefits of this wonderful alternative to peanut butter. The Doctors, Jillian Michaels, and Denise Austin said I should switch from peanut butter to almond butter so I jumped in the car and headed to the grocery store. When I saw the price, I immediately had a heart attack and fell to the floor faster than Alan can fall asleep in the recliner. When the paramedics came, they recommended that I learn to make my own almond butter. After all, what good are the health benefits if I have a coronary every time I purchase a jar? Made perfect sense to me.

Before I share my recipe, here's what I have learned about almond butter:

It is a food paste made from almonds (duh). Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, which are considered to be a healthier form of fat than saturated fat. Like other nut butters, almond butter retains the nutritional value of the almonds it comes from. It is rich in protein, calcium, iron, essential fatty acids, Vitamin E, magnesium, and it is a great source of fiber. Unfortunately, it is also higher in calories than many other nut butters, but to me, the heart-health benefits outweigh the extra calories.

The uses for almond butter are as varied as they are for peanut butter. It can be used like a spread, mixed into sauces and dressings, eaten plain, or used in desserts. The flavor is actually quite similar to peanut butter, with a faint hint of almonds.

There are a number of different styles of almond butter, starting with toasted or raw. Toasted almond butter has a richer flavor, but some people prefer the milder taste of raw almond butter. The smoothest and creamiest is made from almonds that have been blanched to remove their skins, and then finely ground. More chunky versions include almond skin, and are not ground as finely.

My version is made with toasted almonds, including the skin. I have made both toasted and raw, and personally prefer toasted.

You'll need a heavy-duty food processor (not the small, mini version) plus these ingredients:

2 cups toasted almonds (I toast in the toaster oven on 350 degrees for six minutes)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or to taste)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or to taste)

Add the toasted almonds to the food processor and process until the nuts are finely chopped and begin to turn creamy (1-2 minutes). Add the salt, olive oil, and brown sugar and process until the following consistency:

That's it! Seriously!

Store the almond butter in your pantry or refrigerator. Just remember, there are no preservatives, so choose your storage method with that in mind. I have successfully pantry-stored almond butter for over a week with no problem.

I love almond butter on vanilla wafers! What's not to love?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Out of the dark

In my continued series, Darkness into Life: Alabama's Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art, meet Riva Hirch and read her compelling story:

When little girls are ten years old, they should be playing with dolls or hosting tea parties.

When Riva Hirsch was ten years old, she was hidden by nuns in a bunker near a convent in Ukraine. Fearful of frequent visits by the SS soldiers, the nuns were only able to visit the bunker every two or three days to leave food and water.
Out of the Dark by Becky Seitel
“When the door was cracked, it was my lifeline. The door separated me from the outside world. Inside that bunker, my life was lonely and frightening,” she recalls.

So fearful were the nuns of being discovered, they often simply cracked the door and hurriedly threw in the food.

“I was living among rats. If I was fast enough to get to the food before the rats ran away with it, I ate. If I was too slow, I was forced to exist on lice. They were all over me. At times, I could hardly open my eyes or my mouth. Swallowing lice helped keep me alive. They were my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Riva existed in this dark isolation for two years.

“I don’t know how time passed. Day was night and night was day. I felt more dead than alive. But even though I didn’t have even the simple basics of life like other little girls, I was safe.”

“In 1945, the door of the bunker opened wide. It had not been open more than a crack for two years.

“The nuns wrapped my frost-bitten feet in cloth and draped a blanket over my shoulders. I was suffering from malaria and typhus. My vision was impaired and my teeth had fallen out.

“A voice spoke in a language I didn’t understand. I later learned the Russian Army had liberated me.

“A hand pushed me forward. I moved toward the light, and with small footsteps, left the bunker in Tulchin, Ukraine.

“I was 12 years old.”

Like many children of the Holocaust, Riva was robbed of her childhood more than six decades ago by Adolph Hitler.

Today, she spends time working with the Elks Lodge of Mountain Brook to help promote the education and social development of Alabama’s youth.

Riva is well-known throughout the state for her dedication to raising money for the Elks Youth Camp. Located on Lake Martin in Tallassee, Alabama, the Elks Youth Camp offers activities and programs for young people between ages eight and thirteen. The youngsters receive an opportunity to experience different surroundings while learning valuable lessons about life. The programs are designed to help build character while showing how important it is to work with others.
Building Better Kids by Becky Seitel
In 2006, Riva single-handedly sold more Cadillac raffle tickets than any other Alabama member. This was just one of the reasons she was named Alabama Elk of the Year, becoming the first woman to receive that honor in the history of the Mountain Brook Lodge.

“Since we came to America in 1962, people have been wonderful to my husband and me,” Riva says. “Being a part of the Elks Association gives me an opportunity to give something back to this country by giving our youth such a great opportunity to build character… and have fun!”

Riva's husband, Aisic, is also a Holocaust survivor.

When she talks about the terror she experienced in Ukraine, he understands more than anyone. That’s because he experienced circumstances very similar to Riva’s, almost 1,000 miles away in Poland.

Riva and Aisic Hirsch married in Haifa in 1950, five years after they were liberated by Russian troops.

“We both went to Palestine after the war, and it was there that I met my beshert, a Yiddish word that means perfect match, soul mate, destiny,” Riva explains.
Beshert by Becky Seitel
“I was a police officer and often ate at a local cafĂ©. Riva was a waitress there, just 16, and the most beautiful girl I had ever seen,” says Aisic.

Through the years, they’ve shared much more than the painful story of their past. They’ve shared many happy family times, always observing and celebrating their Jewish faith and heritage, a faith and heritage that made them a target of murder by the Nazis and then brought them together in Palestine.
Friday Night by Becky Seitel